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American Book Review: Speaker is patron of Texas letters

By BY ERIC MILES WILLIAMSON
Nov. 19, 2013 at 5:19 a.m.

Eric Miles Williamson

Although Thursday's American Book Review speaker Paul Ruffin is known for being one of the greatest short-story writers and poets of America, and though in Texas his reputation as a writer is second only to Larry McMurtry and Cormac McCarthy, seldom mentioned is his role as one of the two (alongside the University of Houston-Victoria publishing complex and Dean Jeffrey Di Leo) leading publishing forces in the state.

A Mississippi transplant some 40 years ago, Ruffin founded what is now The Texas Review in 1976 at Sam Houston State University. The Texas Review is an internationally distributed literary journal that has published many of the finest writers America has produced in the past half century. The review's reputation is so stellar that though the review does not pay, writers submit more than a thousand manuscripts a year in hopes of being published. Richard Burgin, for instance, winner of more prestigious Pushcart Prizes than any author except Joyce Carol Oates, publishes regularly in The Texas Review. Other notables who have been published in the review include George Garrett, X.J. Kennedy, Fred Chappell, George Singleton, Sam Pickering, Noel Polk, Robert Phillips and Walt McDonald to name but a few - an astonishing lineup of superstars.

As if being a professor, poet, essayist, novelist, short story writer, anthologist and editor of The Texas Review weren't enough, Ruffin is also founder and director of the Texas Review Press, which publishes more books of fiction and poetry than any other press in Texas. Initially printing only one title a year, Ruffin's Texas Review Press now publishes more than 20 books annually. The list of authors includes William Harrison (author of "Rollerball," which was made into the major film of the same title), Tom Cobb (author of "Crazy Heart," the movie of which starred Jeff Bridges and swept the Academy Awards), George Garrett (perhaps the best Southern writer ever) and renowned Texan Sarah Cortez. Ruffin, himself a former Texas State Poet Laureate in 2009, has published Texas Poet Laureates Jack Meyers, Cleatus Rattan, Larry Thomas, Karla Morton and Alan Birklebach. Books published by Paul Ruffin and his Texas Review Press have won or been finalists for state, national and international awards on a regular basis, and they have been translated overseas.

The list goes on and on.

More important than publishing America's established literary luminaries, however, is Ruffin's ongoing sponsorship of young and up-and-coming authors. It is rare for a publisher to take a risk on unknown authors, but Ruffin's acute discernment has proven that if a publisher has good taste and faith in his own judgment, he can beat the New York publishers to the finest authors in the country. Ruffin has published young and first-time authors who are now making their names in the world - authors such as Brian Carr, who won the Texas Observer award for fiction, judged by Larry McMurtry. Joseph Haske, an ABR contributing editor, won the Boulevard magazine award - a $1,500 national prize - and Ruffin just this month published Haske's novel, "North Dixie Highway," which has been excerpted in Romanian magazines and the Chicago Tribune. Juan Ochoa's "Mariguano," a novel about the drug wars on the Texas/Mexico border, is being considered for film, and Ochoa has been interviewed for a documentary that will be aired on PBS. Other up-and-comers Ruffin has recently published include George Williams (the novel "Degenerate"), Michael Gills (the short story collection "The Death of Bonnie and Clyde"), Marc Watkins (another winner of the Boulevard prize and published in France) and Larry Fondation (three books published in France). All of this has happened in the past few years. Watch next year for past ABR speaker Tom Williams' forthcoming short story collection.

Paul Ruffin's impact on literature in Texas, America and abroad is enormous, and the American Book Review is proud to bring him to the UHV/ABR Reading Series on Thursday in the UHV University West Alcorn Auditorium for a reading, conversation and good cheer.

If you miss the noon reading, you are invited to attend a reception that evening for Ruffin from 5:30 to 7:30 at the Eagleford Restaurant in Cuero. Two free shuttle buses will be leaving from in front of UHV University West at 4:30 p.m. and will be returning from the reception at 7:30 p.m. Those interested in riding should call 361-570-4101 to reserve a spot.

Eric Miles Williamson has published three novels, two books of essays and a short story collection. He teaches at the University of Texas-Pan American and is an associate editor of American Book Review.

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